Oprah Winfrey has returned to television, but I don’t think she returned in the way she wanted.
After all, when she retired from her daily talk show to focus on new cable network OWN, it wasn’t because she wanted to revise her already insanely successful TV career on a network that gets demonstrably fewer views and media attention.
With “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” for decades, she was able to reach and influence millions because her syndicated program was everywhere, airing on major networks available in nearly every American household that has a TV set. OWN was about something new. Which is probably why she made her new show an interview show and declared it “The Next Chapter.”
But “The Next Chapter” isn’t appearing from the same position of strength and influence the first chapter ended on. While the debut did well for the network, because it’s cable and not syndication, the numbers paled in comparison to her original show. It’s a sign that Winfrey is adapting to a new environment – trying to figure out the magical mix that makes a network.
OWN originally was branded as a sort of “self-help” network, but the shows – unlike the spin-offs she spearheaded for Dr. Phil and Rachel Ray – floundered. Even bringing Rosie O’Donnell back, once her competition in the 1990s, did little to nothing to generate the kind of hype and buzz Oprah was used to. Largely because O’Donnell’s image had changed dramatically since her days of crushing on Tom Cruise while lending her name to her own magazine. No one remembered the fun, good natured host of yore, but the conspiracy theory spouting former “The View” host who got in lengthy fights with a bloviating Donald Trump.
I think a lot of the disappointment in OWN’s programming isn’t so much that people like or dislike self-help TV or like or dislike O’Donnell or wanted to see more or less Oprah. The problem is – Oprah Winfrey is magic to her viewing public and when she said she was creating a network with her name on it that’s what people expected – they expected her.
Her ideas. Her influence. Her interests, but reborn through a variety of network programming.
Magic is more than trotting out future Dr. Oz clones and upbeat but familiar feeling reality shows when your competition is hysterical theatrics of “Bad Girls Club” and “Dance Moms.”